The biggest mistake that Europeans could make while watching the ongoing trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway is to discount his rambling tirades against Islam and multiculturism as the ravings of a crackpot. Whether clinically sane or not -- the Norwegian psychiatrists at the pretrial flip-flopped on this -- Breivik's thousand-page manifesto and his convictions in general are not the bizarre product of a "delusional thought universe," as the first psychiatric report concluded. On the contrary, Breivik's "thought universe" bears all the staples of a political ideology that accurately reflects a potent Islamophobic discourse that has taken hold across the continent and beyond since the 9/11 attacks. Breivik's monstrous crimes must serve as a shrill wake-up call for Europeans -- and not just Europeans -- to acknowledge the very real potential for violence inherent in this movement and take action to stem it, at its source.
Breivik is not a Norwegian novelty but, rather, symptomatic of a growing culture of politically motivated violence across the continent (just check out the London-based Islamophobia Watch, which chronicles anti-Muslim violence). Muslims have been assaulted and killed, their mosques and institutions smeared with graffiti and bombed. Rampages that copycat Breivik's, say experts, aren't out of the question. Indeed, security services have been far too lax about the threat of the far right, especially its most radical, Islam-obsessed currents.
Yet the source of the discrimination, hate speech, and violence increasingly directed at Europe's Muslim communities lies much closer to home: Islamophobia has won an accepted presence in mainstream discourses and politics from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. Political parties that espouse a somewhat milder version of Breivik's thoughts sit in parliaments across Northern Europe, including in the European Parliament, and even participate in ruling coalitions. In some countries, like once proudly multikulti Denmark, these politicos have had a pronounced impact on migration, asylum, and cultural, social, and anti-terrorism policies, as well as on the entrenchment of a growing popular animus against Muslims.
Even proper democrats have capitulated to Islamophobia, unable to field the complex issues of Islam and Europe's Muslims constructively. Last year, Denmark's opposition Social Democrats, for example, though fiercely split, backed a landmark tightening of immigration requirements for non-Westerners, a bill the anti-Islam Danish People's Party co-wrote and pushed. The burqa bans in France and Belgium had similar support. Acts like these stigmatize Muslims further and play straight into the hands of this new generation of Europe's right, which includes extremists like Breivik who are inspired by its arguments. An international network of "counter-jihad" groups are expanding in reach and influence, according to a report released by the British group Hope Not Hate on the eve of Breivik's trial. Far-right organizations are forging new alliances throughout Europe and the United States, according to the group, which documented 190 groups promoting an Islamophobic agenda.